This town has always loved the fancy hotel brunch. Cielo at the Four Seasons Hotel downtown is going after people with that hankering. They’re hopping, so busy that when I broke the old family rule and walked in one Sunday without a reservation or even a phone call at 11 a.m, they told me that the earliest they could seat me was 1.30 p.m. So please call in advance if you go.
With the advance of nice weather, it will only get busier, as there’s now outside seating on the terrace by the pool, too, with that great view of the Arch and the river. Another advantage is that in the daytime that ghastly giant video billboard isn’t flashing a few hundred feet away to remind you of exactly where you are.
They’ve laid it out quite well, six separate sections that avoids serious clogs in the flow of traffic except at the bar. There’s plenty of room between tables, a graceful touch. But there are difficulties elsewhere.
My first surprise was when I went looking for the salads and similar dishes. A large cheese and charcuterie display was clearly appreciated by the earlier guests, but the only other offerings were a large green salad and some red pepper hummus. Across the way prime rib was being carved. What I saw was pink or tan; another guest complained that they weren’t serving it sufficiently rare. There’s an omelet station, of course, and it was busy.
Seafood is featured, and there were indeed lashings of shrimp, already peeled, probably before cooking, considering their slightly soft texture. Oysters on the half shell, probably Gulf, to judge from their mildness, but surprisingly large. Crab claws unfortunately didn’t appear until I was literally walking out of the restaurant. Interestingly the smoked salmon, which was quite good, showed up in far more limited quantities – every time I passed the rather small rectangular platter, there were only one or two pieces on it, so it must have been popular.
Chafing dishes offered link sausages, very nice, very juicy, some unremarkable bacon, and a surprisingly tasty version of the ubiquitous breakfast potato, cubes that were deepfried, but well seasoned, a little onion and sweet pepper and a dusting of one of the hard cheeses. On the west side of the chafing dish table were two seafood pastas, a seafood ravioli that was delicious and a lobster macaroni and cheese. I saw no visible lobster, and tasted none, but it was among the better mac and cheeses I’ve seen on a buffet table. Another pasta was sauced with pesto. The vegetables of the day, squash and cauliflower cooked together, completed that group.
There’s a handsome bread station with good croissants, a gluten-free bread and some amusing-looking white-topped buns that turned out to be citrus-cinnamon, although slightly stale. They’re frying doughnuts at the dessert stations, and those were delightful, perhaps not as handsome as the commercial kind, but still worthwhile. Bombolini, or filled doughnuts, weren’t fried to order, but were very fresh. They had a chocolate custard filling, and finger-sized servings of a chocolate raspberry cake and a riff on tiramisu were both excellent. One of the latter two was gluten free – I believe it was the raspberry cake, but don’t hold me to that. Mini-tarts had a citrus curd filling and fresh berries.
Throughout the meal, though, there was a remarkable shortage of dinner plates. On my first round, I found none at all, until I finally located a few at the omelet station. Throughout the meal, they continued in very short supply. And for a high-end hotel restaurant, service was strangely lacking. The server didn’t tell me what beverages were included; I had to ask. Some coffee was spilled when it first arrived. The server noticed it, and apologized, saying it would be taken care of. Half of it was. The rest stayed on the table for the entire meal. It was very good coffee, though. Fifty-five minutes after I first sat down, I surrendered and asked if I could please have more. No one was circulating with a coffee pot offering refills and the server never inquired. The mimosas and bloody Marys that are included have to be obtained by going to the bar and waiting for them. Apparently there are smoothies and boozy milkshakes available, but those must have been on double super secret probation, because I only heard about them by, oh, forgive me, eavesdropping.
The sign says parking is included, but I paid $5 when I handed my ticket over downstairs. At this point, I just sighed. The standard adult tab is $48; I used a Groupon and paid $32. Was all this because I’d told them I had a Groupon? Is it like getting the worst room in the hotel because you reserved through one of the travel consolidators? (Note: Don’t ever do that – hotel chains’ own websites will equal their price and you’ll have a better shot at a view of something more than the garbage bins.)
I expected more variety. I would have expected a few more items for vegetarians, although I admit virtue could take a back seat with the desserts available. And I certainly expected better service, which was far from what this room is capable of, I know from experience.
Mothers Day and Fathers Day are coming up, and all the college graduations. Time to get your A Game on, Four Seasons.
Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis
999 North 2nd St.
Brunch Sun. 10.30 a.m. - 2.30 p.m.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good
Brunch: $48 adults, $25 children 5-12. Higher on holidays.